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Twelfth Night ☆☆☆


By William Shakespeare

The Rose, Bankside

Directed by: Sean Turner

Until 30 November 2013 (Running time: 1 hr 40 mins)

Review by Sandra Lawson

8 November 2013

Permanently Bard class themselves as a new company dedicated to raucous reimaginings of Shakespeare in pub gardens, but Twelfth Night is now indoors on Bankside throughout November.

The play is a multi-layered especially once you look beyond the cross-dressing and mistaken identities and Permanently Bard certainly do justice to Shakespeare’s text. The acting is faultless, the costumes are Elizabethan and the language is clearly conveyed to contemporary audiences. It makes a change to see a production performed in Elizabethan dress (we believe the play to have been first staged in 1601), especially in a theatre built in 1587. It is also a pleasing coincidence to note that the first time Twelfth Night was in print was in the First Folio, when it was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 8 October 1623, exactly 390 years and 1 month ago.

I cannot comment on the effect of the play when performed to pub audiences in the open air, but using a small indoor location means that the actors engage directly with the audience, appealing to spectators as if they were cast members. This is especially appropriate in the case of Viola, who confides in us when speaking her soliloquies. We share her bemusement and confusion as her predicament unfurls.

It takes a great deal of suspension of imagination for a contemporary audience watching a cast comprised of both sexes to accept that Viola is indeed Cesario, her brother’s twin – not least as Esther-Grace Button is very petite and makes no attempts to deepen her voice and appear masculine, beyond wearing the same clothes as Jack Harding’s Sebastian.

The play is performed for laughs, although I have seen funnier versions. Cameron Harle’s Feste demonstrates a close friendship with Richard Fish’s Sir Toby Belch, who in turn makes no attempt to hide his distaste for and dislike of Wil Colman’s Malvolio. The latter was not pompous enough for my liking (although his status as a Puritan was signified by his black clothing and white collar), and did not appear a broken man when he was confined to a dark house. Bryony Meredith’s Olivia duly falls in love with Cesario with great speed, bosom heaving, as she listens to the wicker cabin speech, but I was not convinced of her love for Cesario, nor of Viola/Cesario’s for Orsino.

Perhaps I know the play too well, both theatrically and academically, and was looking for more, either in the comedy, or in the play’s dark side. Putting my personal opinions aside, it is an excellent production for those who are either unfamiliar, or who only have a passing acquaintance, with the play. In Shakespeare’s words you make of Twelfth Night exactly What You Will.

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